Keiko Niimoto - Loss and Gain

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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The Editor's Preface

What a pity that they should be loaded with such a miserable fate! Those young girls who ought to have been bred happily fell a victim to the very calamity in a moment.

Ostentatious young men when coming across them would say in their faces loudly, "They are so to speak gorillas. I would never marry such a woman!" This mournful fact has been thrust into their mind.

In the following description, you may see how those A-bomb girls are living a thorny life, strongly.

Loss and Gain
By Keiko Niimoto

When I feel lonely and forlorn, I always caress both hands furtively; which are pitilessly bound, deformed and knit together; which remind me of the agony of death; and yet which are fathomlessly dear to me. Every time I look at my face in a mirror, I see it uncannily distorted. I can't peer at my face and hands without clearly recollecting the dreadful instant, 8:15 a.m. August 16, 1945; the subsequent, hellish sight on the earth; and a train of memories of my happy young days and my classmates, most of whom died an unnatural and a violent death.

At that time I was in the first year class in Hiroshima Girls' Commercial High School. That day I was to be engaged in some working with classmates of mine; mother saw us off; we were in our way. "Look! Miss Niimoto. B-29 dropped something just now." said one of [sic] class-mates [inconsistent hyphenation] looking up in the sky and pointing her finger at it. Hearing which, I also, looked up in that direction. Who knew what might happen in the next moment? In a moment I was struck down on the spot by a sudden glaring flash. "What is the matter?" I muttered to myself trying to get up, when all of a sudden another shock attacked me and I was thrown [a] few yards; [I] fainted away hopelessly.

A considerable time must have elapsed. I came to myself, got up, looking about me; bright sunshine was seen nowhere; everywhere dusky; bustling streets had turned dead quiet; next I found myself hanging about a dead man among those desperately fleeing in the sea of fire.

I dimly remember seeing now some who almost naked, cruelly skinned, festered, with thin skin hanging down, just like in ragged clothes, were heaped, now others from whose skin was flowing blood and whose faces were swollen and bloodshot enough to be considered as red-balloons. And nothing but beastly, wild groans and wheezy gaspings were heard from their mouths. Crowds of people rushed for water towards the river, crying as if they were being burnt at the stake, "Water! Water! ......."

Unexpectedly I heard someone call me by name; suddenly coming to my senses, I set eyes on the figure, only to unconsciously back a step or two. I saw there a bloated, congested face, hair frizzled short. The ragged clothes were smoking ready for catching fire.

"Who are you?" asked I, ready to flee.

"I am Anaki, Sachiko Anaki, you see?"

"Oh! A-Anaki. What is the matter?"

It was found to be one of my class-mates.

"My face ugly?" resumed Miss Anaki.

Seeing my wonder at her face, she repeated the same question.

"Your face, but a little ......, but mine is ......." replied I. We two, each giving vague answers, worried ourselves about our own face.

Miss Anaki asked me to help her in retrieving her mother and brother; her mother being under the fallen house then led me to the neighboring alley. Her mother's head could bare avoid the pressure; but her whole body was under heavy pillars and bricks; she peered at the waving, approaching fire; motionless, resigned to her fate. On our drawing nearer, she said with unexpected calm, "Leave me and run. And seek your missing father. I am resigned." Seeing this, we could do nothing for her. Miss Anaki would not leave there, crying bitterly. Her mother, however, resumed imploringly, rather loudly. "Run away! For ever." cried she. We had scarcely stepped back when the house caught fire. Repeating, "Good bye." at the top of our own voice, we looked back over our shoulders over again; the mother was gazing fixedly at us; "Hell on earth" indeed.

Thus poor Miss Anaki and I made our way to Motoyasu River to cool our own hot bodies in it. There were already thousands of sufferers in the river and lots of people were surging into it like a tide.

Towards evening, we go to Hijiyama Primary School with great difficulty, and we were moved into the hall together with other sufferers.

As the night was advanced, the unbearable cold began to tell [sic] on us; we felt as if dying [lying?] on the ice; in the daytime, the heat in the fire; at night the cold as if in the arctic region. Moreover, the mouth was swollen and I could not move lips; I was at the mercy of fate, suffering from pain.

Thus about three days I had been lying motionless, almost dead, taking nothing at all; while those looking for blood relations peeped into the hall, some murmuring, "Ah! This girl is dying." "I must not die -- nay will never die!" I encouraged myself more than once.

Whenever I fell into a slumber, it invariably contained many despairing dreams, such as of being pushed down from a lofty cliff into the bottom of a ravine, or of drinking poisoned water.

On the fourth night, as I knew afterward, I was quite tired out, lying resigned, till at last on a sudd en someone called me by name; "who must be mother -- surely"; which drove me to tears. I felt her embracing me in her breast and soon swooned away.

Nothing short of a miracle could have saved all our family and our house.

According to their statement I could hardly be stripped of my ragged, stained clothes without also stripped of my matured [sic] skin; and only fifty out of three hundred class-mates of mine survived; innumerable corpses afloat on the river formed rafts, which it took nearly a week to draw up; flickerings of phosphorous lights emanating from those buried alive everywhere made the night of Hiroshima lurid and terrible; and many other cruel, hellish stories; while I had been kindly nursed by our family.

No doctor and no medicine could be found in the almost annihilated town; so that to mitigate pain, I stuck thin, flat pieces of fresh cucumber to the openings of wound[s]; and smeared them over with juice of potato and oil used for food.

Although lying in bed, yet feeling my heart beat regularly and vigorously, I enjoyed happiness and the ecstasy of living to my heart's content.

It happened in the evening towards the end of October when [a] refreshing breath of air induced me to creep out of bed. It was three months since I had stood last in fornt of a mirror, which mother would not hand me while I was in bed. I was very anxious to know what my face was like; so that I surreptitiously touched the crape cover of the mirror.

"Ah! How can this be mine?" I doubted the evidence of my senses; my hair frizzled short, adhered to my head; my face without eye-brow, with hollow eyes; lower part of the face burnt mercilessly; the skin of the jaw adhered to that of the neck; I looked a red-ogre.

Wishing it were a mere dream I again looked in the mirror; only to see the same ugly face in it; and it would no more reflect the former one so familiar to me.

"Keiko,...." came on a sudden mother's voice choked with tears. "Mother,........because the wound is not yet healed." I had hardly answered to her when I threw myself into her arms; I burst into a flood of tears; all my family wept with me.

Thenceforth I would not meet anyone; became more and more reticent, gloomy; but I persuaded myself not to be jealous, humiliating but to bright, serene; and I tried hard to forget my ugly face or even to rise above all the mean-spirited feelings, firmly believing that it was my chief object [objective] through life to be bright.

Thus my mind regained its clear, former state by December of that year (1945) when I was assisting my busy people in their business of oyster-breeding.

At that time not a few patients of this kind were to be seen in Hiroshima; so that most people were fairly sympathetic with us; little did I feel insignificant.

In a year or two, however the more people in pretty dresses were seen walking in the streets, the fewer could be found with detestable brands on their faces; and the more people curiously pointing their fingers at me.

When I saw young girls of my age in their best whispering in their ears, laughing at me, turning their heads over again, I could not help in spite of myself shedding hot tears and feeling deep mental agonizing rise within me.

I would often fancy it was possible that just as I was malformed in a moment, so a miracle might transfigure my present, miserable body into the former one.

I wished I could for an hour, even for a few minutes stride as I had been in such fine clothes.

A showy young man talked to his company in my face, "Say. She looks like a gorilla. I would not marry her even for a fortune." On such a scornful remark I would urge myself to remember at all times that it was a trial I must go through.

"Never be mean-spirited, but always bright!"

The world is unexpectedly cool, indifferent. As the world was changed we A-bomb sufferers were forgotten. Is it illusive when I say that I felt people become more and more disgustful at our queer and ugly features?

Some did not want to go out at all, always keeping house, lest they should meet anyone. Others underwent orthopedic operations. We A-bomb girls of marriageable age, made great efforts in order to get rid of hellish brands upon our faces, but all in vain. These desperate efforts might be considered as negative protests against the neglecting people at large.

Bright and innocent as I was, I felt lonely and gloomy.

Last August we had the good opportunity to organize a friendship association consisting of more than twenty A-bomb sufferers under the auspices of Rev. Tanimoto and held the meetings to console, encourage one another; at last we found the resting place for our soul[s]; here at this "Hiroshima Peace Centre" [British spelling] we members have promised to replace our self-depreciation [self-deprecation] resulting from ugliness by our self-consciousness born anew and to walk straight, with our heads up.

Thus we could laugh heartily -- yes, we had forgotten merry laughter as long as six years; and we came to attend dancing parties and to take a walk together.

God be blessed!

In October, as I was called upon to make a performance in amateur entertainment, I immediately consented to it; needless to say all my family were against me. My parents must have thought that it would be unbearable to see my into the bargain on the stage in the midst of curiosity, mock and laugh of spectators; but I persisted in my opinion; because I considered it as an excellent chance of trying whether I could bear myself without humiliation in defiance of spectators' criticisms and imperious chaffs.

I was thinking of dancing "Haru-Same" on the stage. One could not expect of me such subtler movements of slender fingers and graceful faces as a dancer does. And yet I did it in sober earnest; I intended neither more nor less than -- to dance freely.

"Keiko, we don't attend the entertainment, but we expect you to do your best." said mother, being anxious about my dancing dresses with one thing or another.

Saying so, both parents sent me out that day; I left home, replying in the affirmative.

Tuning with the pathetic melody from the shamisen flowed as follows:

A warble is on the tree,
In the soft, vernal rain.
The air is fainted with
the scent of its flowers.

I found myself on the stage an object of everyone's steady regard. I was deeply moved to find both parents taking their seats on the remoter part, peering fixedly at me over the spectators' shoulders.

With a round of applause, coming to myself, I withdraw from the stage. I have done well!

Getting home hurriedly with throbbing heart, I found both parents are so beside themselves with joy, tears streaming from their eyes, crying, "Well done! Well done!"

I have played out well in the spectators' steady regard; which gave me self-confidence for the first time.

Fortunately we, A-bomb girls, are subjected to orthopedic operation[s] in Tokyo University Hospital. Our knit-fingers and adhered necks will be healed. But ugly marks will remain lasting fiend's brands, whether on our faces, hands or legs. But I shall be so happy if these ugly scars remind those who will take pity on me of the catastrophe; no doubt they will cry, "No more Hiroshima!"

I covet perpetual peace; I would be willing to expose myself fearlessly to anyone to maintain peace, lest we should ever experience such agony of death again in [the] future.

I even think that there is in me hidden something extremely precious -- why should I feel ashamed of myself?

(Aug. 11, 1952)


The piece is hand-written.